Monday, September 27, 2010

Gist puts someone in control, but I'm not sure if it's you

Whatever you can say about ReadWriteWeb, they can write good headlines. This headline caught my attention recently - LinkedIn Competitor Has 100 Million Profiles, Wants You to Claim Yours.

OK, maybe not recently - the post was written September 13, but at least I bookmarked it to look at it now. This is (part of) what Adrianne Jeffries said: is a database of dynamic, information-rich user profiles that can be accessed via the Web or inside your email or other communication-management tool, or on your mobile device.

The database is populated with the people who have signed up for Gist's public beta and their contacts. There are 100 million profiles of people and companies behind Gist's wall, collected over about a year. Now, Gist wants users to "claim" their profiles by updating their own data (and potentially making some information public).

So do I have a profile?

The "vast majority" of the 100 million people in Gist's directory don't know they have Gist profiles, CEO and founder T.A. McCann said.

So do I have a profile? I went to the Gist website and couldn't find a search box (not that I expected to be able to do so), but I did find this statement:

New Gist social profiles automatically discover information about your contacts and put you in control.

Well, it puts you in control - provided that you sign up for a account. So I guess that means that it puts in control, doesn't it?

Not that is doing something out of the ordinary. There are a number of services, some of which are legitimate, that will let you know that they have information about you, or perhaps about your relatives or friends. They'll give you this information, but you have to sign up for the service yourself (thus providing additional information that the service can use to advertise to others). And in some cases, you also have to pay a fee.

(For the record, is free during the beta period, but reserves the right to charge for services in the future.)

And for those who protest and say that this is un-American (or un-Canadian, or un-Australian, or whatever), frankly there's no reason why any organization can't compile any publicly available information about you, put it in a database, and charge people to see it. Let's face, even the Electronic Frontier Foundation collects information about its website users. Specifically, here are a few example of how the EFF collects information:

EFF collects and retains information you submit to us. It is up to you whether to submit information to us, and how much information to provide. If you choose to become an EFF member or register for the EFF Action Center, we ask for your name, title, email address, city, state, postal code, country of residence, and phone number, and we may invite you to select a password. For online donors and shoppers, we also ask for your credit card number. We also maintain records of our members' use of the Action Center, and you may wish to indicate your particular interests in your Action Center profile. If you use the EFF Shop, you are asked to provide personal information, such as a shipping address, necessary to complete your transaction.

We may ask for additional personal information when you provide feedback or comments, or otherwise communicate with us. We are pleased to receive anonymous donations, but please note that your personal information is required if you choose to donate using our online form.

Now obviously the EFF is going to be very open about what it does with the information it receives, since it wants to be a model for what other groups should do. And some of the information that it collects, such as the identities of online donors, is quite possibly mandated by governmental tax laws.

But did you know that the EFF uses information that you provide so that it can make money? In effect, that's what they do:

If you choose to complete the "Please tell us why you became a member of EFF" field when donating, this information may be shared with the entire EFF staff and board, and select unattributed quotes may be used to promote our mission, such as including a relevant quote in a grant proposal.

So the next time that you write "EFF is wonderful, and I love the way they fight all the moneygrubbers," consider that EFF could, in a sense, use that statement to grub some money for themselves.

Oh, and in a way EFF has one clear parallel with; in both cases, members of the organization provide information about people who are NOT members of the organization:

If you invite another person to join EFF or take action in one of our alerts, we will ask for that person's name and online contact information. We use this information to contact and, if necessary, remind that person that he or she has been invited to join EFF.

So bear in mind that ANY organization can compile information about you, and there's really no reason why organizations should be prevented from compiling publicly available information.

In fact, I could share some more specific information with certain of my readers, but to access the information that I want to share, you'd have to sign up for the brand new Empoprises Secure Information Service, and provide the service with your name, address, e-mail address, telephone number, the password to the MySpace account that you had a few years ago...and your bank account number, so that I can withdraw your membership fee and place it with my cousin, a senior minister in Nigeria.
blog comments powered by Disqus